In light of the recent news about you stepping down as chairman of your cancer-fighting foundation, Livestrong, I felt the need to write to you. Don’t worry, this isn’t some finger-pointing, shame on you, we-all-hate-you letter that you might think. I’m sure you’ve received plenty of those. On the flip side, this also isn’t a we-all-love-you-and-believe-you-are still-innocent letter either. It’s simply a plea from me, your (former?) number one fan to do something.
Like countless others, I have followed you for years. I was there when you were first diagnosed with cancer. I stood by you–albeit anonymously and thousands of miles away–while you endured treatment. I prayed for you. I tracked your progress religiously. I rejoiced when you were done and shed tears of joy when you hopped back on your bike. I cheered loudly every time you took the podium. I read all of your books, even your mom’s book, and felt pangs of envy over the bond the two of you appeared to share. I have been inspired by you numerous times, quoted you more than a handful of times, and used your mantras and drive and determination to get me through long rides and long runs when I too prepared for races. Ask any of my friends and they will tell you that I have been inspired by you for years–so much so that I would refer to you on a first name basis and they always knew who I meant. You have been a hero to me in more ways than you know.
It was you who I wrote to when my dad died of cancer nine years ago. I figured you could relate and give comfort to my oldest son, who was then just seven at the time. You see, he (Bradley) also looked up to you. He watched me read your books, listened to me talk about you, and heard me, on more than one occasion, use you as motivation to get him to ride his bike. “You can do it, Bradley Legstrong,” I used to say when I wanted him to pedal just a little bit harder and make it up that big hill on our street. You were gracious enough to respond to my request with a letter back, including kind words to Bradley over losing his grandpa. You even enclosed a poster of you (on your bike) and a yellow Livestrong bandana–both of which remain in his room to this day. Until today.
You see, now I’m not quite sure what to do. Should I tell him about your doping accusations? How the USADA believes they have irrefutable proof that you pulled off the “most sophisticated doping program in sports history?” How at least fifteen former teammates and dozens of others have testified, under oath, that you cheated? How your sponsor, Nike, could possibly have aided you in covering all of this up and they have broken all ties with you? How you forfeited your seven Tour de France titles and now your position of chairman at your own Livestrong foundation? Should I tell him all of that, or should I let him go on believing what I believed for so long: that you were the biggest and the best and the most positive role model there was. What would you do? What are you doing with your own kids?
I’m not here to tell you that you’re a bad person or to shame you. No one deserves the right to judge another person. As I writer, I have been personally attacked more than once, and I know how bad that feels. We are all human. We all make mistakes. We all do things we wish we didn’t do. I will tell you that I feel disappointed, let down and sad.
But I am here to ask you a favor: Could you please do the right thing? If you had any part, any part at all, in doping during your professional career, please tell us. Tell me, tell Bradley. I realize that there are likely many gray areas and this scandal is much more complicated than it appears, but only you know the complete and honest truth. And only you can do what’s right.
I believe I speak for many of your fans when I say that we will still respect you and honor your accomplishments in cycling (after all, you are still the one who trained hard and worked relentlessly to scale those mountainous roads throughout the Tour year after year). And we will definitely respect the efforts you have given towards curing cancer and the support you have given to those living with this disease. I believe you are a good person at heart and a remarkable athlete regardless.
As for Bradley, well, I always tell him that we all make mistakes, but what people remember most is not the mistake itself, but the way we handle it. I hope you handle it in a way that will make him proud. And in a way that will make him continue to keep your mementos in his room.